30 Jul 2009, 11:17pm
Federal forest policy The 2009 Fire Season
by admin

NPS — Noxious Pseudo Scientists

The National Park Service is currently incinerating 400-year-old old-growth in Olympic National Park. As of today six fires are burning, the largest being the Constance Foofurb Fire at 180 acres.

Foofurb is slang for “fire used for resource benefit,” an oxymoron if there ever was one. Foofurbs are Let It Burn fires; letting fires rip through our National Parks is a practice the NPS is in love with.

With any luck (the bad kind — Murphy’s Law variety), an uncontained fire in old-growth forests in July will burn for two or three more months. The Constance Foofurb Fire go mega, ala the Tillamook Burn. Hundreds of thousands of acres could be catastrophically destroyed. The fuel loadings are enormous, the vegetation is dry, and rain is not expected until Fall.

In two or thee weeks the fire could reach the communities of Duckabush, Brinnon, and Quilcene on Dabob Bay and Hood Canal. Hopefully those broad arms of Puget Sound will stop it, because the NPS isn’t going to.

The NPS is famous for Let It Burn megafires. In 1988 they burned 1.2 million acres in and around Yellowstone NP. The strategy was Let It Burn until things got out of hand, but by then it was too late. In the end, $120 million was spent suppressing fires that could have been doused weeks earlier for a whole lot less.

The NPS rushed to justify the expense. The fires were “natural”; the Park “benefited.”

From Steve Pyne: A Retrospective - Yellowstone 20 Years Later, Eco-Compass Blog, Island Press, July 24th, 2008 [here]

Yet the Yellowstone conflagration seems most significant in retrospect for what the orthodox narrative did not say and what it did not do. The received story did not address the ways the fires were the outcome of a long history of interaction between people and nature. The 1988 fires burned off in one season what would probably have burned over the course of a century, following the arrival of the U.S. Cavalry in 1886. The largest and most dramatic of the fires, the North Fork, started outside the park from human causes. Failed backfiring operations boosted significantly the final acreage and shape of the burns.

Nor did the fires reform policy; that had been resolved 20 years earlier for the National Park Service. Rather than inaugurating a grand era of wilderness fire, the 1988 Götterdämmerung closed out that era, and allowed the problem of exurban fires to command center stage. The fires did affect practice, however, since every park and forest had to shut down fire programs and resubmit fire plans for review. This cold start delayed fire’s presence nationally for several years, and in places, for decades. The fires’ real ecological effects were off-site because understanding of the fires got routed through institutions.

The deeper story, however, is one of missed opportunities. The official line defined the issue as whether free-burning fire belonged in Yellowstone or not. Of course it belonged. The real issue was how it belonged — by what means, at what costs, under what social compact. This never got discussed — was not allowed into the discourse. Instead, the ends, naturalness, determined the means available — eg, “natural” fires rather than prescribed fires.

This might suit solipsistic Yellowstone but it has not well served the national fire community. We are still waiting for that robust discussion, the one Yellowstone should have prompted, and didn’t.

The solipsistic [here] NPS learned nothing from the Yellowstone Fires. In fact, 12 years later the NPS insisted on igniting a prescribed fire “for resource benefit” in Upper Frijoles Units 1 and 5 of Bandelier National Monument. Every weather forecast indicated it was a bad idea, and fire officers from the USFS and BLM begged them not to do it. But the NPS is nothing if not bullheaded, and torching off Upper Frijoles Canyon they did.

They had to try it twice in fact, but on their second attempt the fire took off, crested the canyon walls, and burned north into the Santa Fe National Forest. Predicted strong winds drove the Cerro Grande Fire into Los Alamos, where it destroyed over 400 residences, caused the evacuation of 18,000 people, and did significant damage to the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Cerro Grande Fire inflicted over $860 million in direct costs and losses.

The NPS loved the Warm Fire [here], a 2006 Let It Burn Fire (for “resource benefit”) on the Kaibab NF adjacent to Grand Canyon NP. The NPS likes killing old-growth. I reported on the Warm Fire, while it was burning, on SOS Forests (the old version). The GCNP hated my treatment and sent me threatening emails. They warned that if the USFS tried to salvage any of the 58,000 acres of charred old-growth, they would call on Earth First! to monkey wrench the operations. Hate diatribes filled with slander and libel against me, perpetrated by GCNP employees, still bounce around the Blogosphere.

Grand Canyon National Park is especially nutty. Last year GCNP officials decided to burn Walla Valley [here]. They intended to burn over 6,000 acres in a set fire that “mimicked” a lightning fire. After a few test starts, they backed off that plan and determined not to set any more fires. Over 100 firefighters from the GCNP, Kaibab National Forest, Summit Fire District, Flagstaff Fire Department, Zion National Park, Carson National Forest, Holbrook, and Saguaro National Park managed to contain the test starts. One of those firefighters, Michael MacDonald, died in a helicopter collision that killed five others besides [here].

In 2004 the NPS set an unprepared prescribed fire in Sequoia-Kings Canyon N.P. It blew up out of control almost immediately, the Arrowhead Hotshots were requested, and a much-loved crew member, Daniel Holmes, was killed falling a burning snag.

The stories of NPS burning forests are legion. Now they are burning down Olympic National Park, or at least they intend to do that, unless somebody with some common sense forces them to suppress their foofurbs.

Hopefully I am not the only one with common sense in this great nation, because the NPS hates me and would burn down Olympic NP just to spite me.

The Constance Foofurb Fire is burning north of Dosewallips Falls [here]. Old-growth Douglas-fir is being incinerated in a stand replacement fire and hiking trails are closed. Obviously, this fire is causing serious resource devastation, but the NPS claims unspecified and indeterminate resource “benefit.”

The ONP did announce today [here]:

This fire can be expected to reduce competition from hemlocks in old growth Douglas fir forest, and create canopy openings where a diverse and productive array of plants will temporarily dominate, attracting elk, songbirds, and woodpeckers.

They are grasping for some “resource benefit” that accompanies old-growth devastation.

Thin the hemlocks? Crown fires don’t know which trees are hemlocks and which are Douglas-firs. Furthermore, the hemlocks are old-growth trees, too! The notion that the fire is selectively thinning the old hemlocks in and around the old Douglas-firs is preposterous!

After the old-growth is dead, “diverse” new plants will move in “temporarily”? You betcha, just like in a clearcut. Of course, they won’t be the old-growth associates; they’ll be weeds, just like in a clearcut. Brushy weeds. Temporarily? Like how temporary? 400 years?

That’s doubtful because megafires breed return fires [here]. The Tillamook Fires reburned the same ground three times, each fire six years apart. The old-growth may never come back. The next Ice Age glaciation will cover the Olympics with ice before the old-growth ever returns.

Ain’t killing the old-growth fun? Why, the songbirds and the elk like it afterward, just like in a clearcut. And woodpeckers love the bugs in the dead snags, the formerly alive but now deceased old-growth trees.

And these are the resource benefits?

Excuse me, but these are resource damages, actionable damages, the kind that PG&E and UPRR just shelled out $117 million for [here] to settle forest fire lawsuits brought against them by the US Forest Service.

Junk science is being used to justify old-growth incineration. Absolute solipsistic junk science without so much as a toe in the real world. Maybe NPS stands for Noxious Pseudo Scientists instead of the National Park Service. Or Nature Poisoning Solipsists.

If the Let It Burn policy is held on to, and there is no reason to doubt that it will be given the NPS’s history with fire, the Constance Foofurb Fire could become one for the record books.

You read it here first.

Or maybe the fire will peter out all by itself, instead of leaving a 500,000 acres scar across Olympic National Park. Let us pray that the former happens, because the Lord Almighty may be our only hope of avoiding a mega disaster.

The NPS has proved that they cannot be trusted with matches, and they are so wrapped up in a dream world of their own making that they cannot see the forest for the smoke.

2 Aug 2009, 9:33am
by Gregg P.

Oh my goodness. Now I know where all of this misinformation starts. Perhaps you have missed much of the science in what old growth characteristics actually are. In natural history, of which, we humans have only studied and watched the last couple of hundred years as “managers”, forests are changed through natural disturbances. Fire, wind and tsunamis can be counted among them.
When David Douglas explored the coast range near present day Coos Bay and documented vast stands of Douglas Fir of the same age class, he concluded correctly that fire had played a role. That was long before our current brand of human arrogance begun “managing” wildfire and removing the disturbance from the system because it inconveniences and scares us.
Your scare tactics and misinformation used in this post is deemed silly. Yellowstone is recovering from the 1988 fires (the year I stated studying the effects of fire on natural systems) and have provided diversity for a new generation of residents and visitors to the resource. The forest and natural portions of the other examples that were provided were changed. It was the human investment (again, arrogance and inconvenience) that paid the price. Is it always the natural system that must suffer?
In a perfect world, nature would need no management. All fire agencies including the Forest Service manage small fires in remote locations with few or no resources. Some refer to this as a cost cutting measure; others refer to it as a resource benefit. I am sure you follow the incidents as closely as I do and see that there are hundreds of them each summer.
In Olympic, nearly every summer, small fires are present, especially on the eastern slopes where the fire regime is more pronounced on the rain shadowed forests. They allow for a mosaic of forest types, even in a wooded area with old-growth characteristics. The 400 year old trees that you speak of, have probably survived many previous fires of this scale.
Until you learn to see all the details of a complicated ecosystem system from the ground and the benefits thereof, I would suggest expressing your views in a slightly less embarrassing fashion.

2 Aug 2009, 10:10am
by Mike

Dear me, Gregg, you are sadly misinformed.

Let’s start with “In natural history, of which, we humans have only studied and watched the last couple of hundred years…”

That is Euro-centric myth and cultural bigotry, as well as a-historical and a-scientific. The FACT is that human beings have been living in the Olympics for 13,000 years at least, certainly on the coast since before the ice melted, and in all the inland valleys ever since!!!

Human beings deliberately burned the Coast Range for thousands of years to induce prairies and savannas. It was a cultural landscape, not a wilderness. The residents burned whole landscapes for dozens of reasons, most of which were survival related.

David Douglas recorded vast regions burned by Indians, even though by 1825 much of the native population has been depleted by 90% or more due to introduced diseases. The “single age class” of trees you claim, to the extent it actually existed, was a product of the elimination of anthropogenic fire.

The human arrogance is expressed by you, not me. Your denial and dismissal of historical human influences is racist and hugely objectionable, and factually incorrect. Wilderness is a pernicious and hurtful myth. It is time to change your thinking.

That goes for Yellowstone, too. The denial of millennia of human residency, anthropogenic fire, and anthropogenic predation has led to bizarre ecological theories that fail to correctly describe the forest development pathways. Junk science leads to junk policy, and catastrophe and disaster follow in the wake.

I suggest that you study the free post-graduate-level W.I.S.E. Collquium: History of Western Landscapes [here]. Allow yourself to be educated so that you can rise out of the mire of bigotry and myth and begin to understand how our forests arose and developed. Ignorance is killing our forests. It is time to act responsibly and with a modicum of intelligence.

2 Aug 2009, 10:22am
by Mike

btw, Gregg, I have been a full-time professional forester for 35 years. Would you like to compare resumés? My expertise is born of boots-on-the-ground as well as extensive study over decades.

And, btw, I do track fires at W.I.S.E. Fire Tracking [here]. Can you describe any similar efforts that you engage in?

And, btw, much of this post was about the solipsistic dream world the NPS has created. Would you care to address the bubble that NPS lives in, to the exclusion of public input and instruction? Because the inbred thinking that pervades the NPS is also racist, a-historical, and a-scientific. The eyes of the NPS are rolled back in it’s collective head and that agency is blind and deaf to the tragedies they inflict on our parklands and society.

2 Aug 2009, 10:26am
by Bob Zybach


Here is where misinformation starts, all right, with pseudo-historical research (and related science), such as your own.

David Douglas never went to Coos Bay in his life.

Until you can cite otherwise, I am unaware of any references he ever made to “same age class” stands in Oregon or anywhere else in the Pacific Northwest, either. Maybe you’re thinking of Thornton Munger’s work in the 1930s, and merely got confused?

Your insights on “natural history” are just as misplaced. According to you, all of the other planets in this solar system must be “perfect worlds” because they don’t bear any evidence of human management on them. I suspect your same profound bias against people may be coloring the 20 years of study you have done on the “effects of fire on natural systems.” Yellowstone has been occupied for millennia, too — maybe you’ve started your studies on the wrong planet.

18 Aug 2009, 1:28pm
by Larry H.

Regarding National Parks and their policies on wildfires and their management, they seem to make bad decisions all the time. In fact, my trip to Yosemite yesterday revealed a mismatched and flawed decision on how to deal with some new lightning fires. On one hand, they like to say that all of their “natural” fires will be left to burn on their own, except when it threatens human infrastructure.

The new fire(s) appeared to be burning in an old fire, which burned in 1989. Lots of brush had grown back since then and I am sure they wanted to burn off more of it. However, going against their apparent policy, it sure looked like they purposely torched off at least 4 miles of Highway 41, maybe to reduce the chances of it jumping across the highway into the unburned forest below the road. The nearest structures were miles away, at the intersection of Glacier Point Road and Highway 41.

It sure looked to me that they killed off 1000’s of old growth trees above the highway, which may, or may not have burned if the original fire was left to burn by itself. Now, they will have to cut down and deal with the hazardous trees threatening the highway into the Yosemite Valley.

As is the norm for many government agencies, the right hand knows little about what the left hand is doing.

4 Oct 2009, 9:15pm
by Gregg P.

Every now and then, I google myself and I forgot about this conversation. I am still not impressed by any of your arguments despite all of the browbeating you have given me.

I acknowledge that I didn’t put a finger on human interaction for management purposes and the David Douglas epedition to the greater Coos County area was not until 1823. The 1812 group belonged to Jedidiah Smith.

I don’t think for the National Parks in fire programs. I do however support them. The bottom line is that humans get in the way of these wild places managing themselves the way they have for well over 13,000 years. As someone that was evacuated from his home in Central Oregon twice, never did I say it was someones fault. I prepared my home, and then years later taught others to do the same in wildfire education programs.

I am all impressed with your life’s acedemic studies, however, you are all looking at it from the human side. Stand back and take an objective look at how natural forces are still in charge. You preach that we are in control. Humans had better get in concert with those forces, or get the hell out of the way.

5 Oct 2009, 12:28pm
by Bob Z.


Puh-leaze! Stop trying to act like an authority on topics of which you know little, if anything.

David Douglas NEVER went to Coos Bay. Ever. Jedediah Smith was there in July, 1828, NOT 1812.

You’re just making this stuff up, and your other authoritative declarations and opinions are drawn into question as a result.

I won’t bother to discuss your viewpoints on “natural forces” or your qualifications as a teacher of “wildfire education programs,” but I will say that two evacuations from your own home never look good on a resume.

5 Oct 2009, 9:20pm
by Mike

Gregg, I took your last name off your comments. Now Google searches will yield ambiguity.

Humans don’t get in Mother Nature’s way. We are natural, as natural as any other life form.

Further study of history may help. The Olympics were almost devoid of life for 80,000 years. All the life there, plants and animals, invaded fairly recently. They are cosmopolitan, wide-ranging pioneer, colonizer, and invasive species. There is no “proper balance of nature” or “natural management” separate from humanity — the landscape in the Holocene has been anthropogenic since the ice melted.

Wilderness is a myth, too, and a boring one. The historical truth is much more interesting.



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